The complete quote is, “Better to remain silent and thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.” The quote has been widely attributed to both Abraham Lincoln and Mark Twain, neither of whom had to worry about speaking up.

At the school board meeting of Aug. 28, education activist and taxpayer Marti O’Meara used her three minutes to promote Toes to the Stove, a forum being promoted by Sandy Asper and the Newport-Mesa Community for Students.

Following her comments, board president Vicki Snell couldn’t help herself and she removed all doubt. After O’Meara’s time was up and she was walking away, Snell said:

“I do have a comment, um, the bulk of the forum – the forum in 2016 and the forum in 2018 are not, are biased forums. They’re put on -at this point, O’Meara responds from the back of the room and Snell snaps –“I listened to you – it’s not an opinion, Marti – it’s not an opinion. It was – it – you have endorsed the slate and I don’t believe that you should endorse a slate, put on a forum, and call it unbiased. That’s just my personal opinion – (pointing down the dais) these ladies can do what they want.”

O’Meara tries to respond to Snell, but is cut off with “Thank you very much,” and a prominent eye roll from Snell, which you can see here:

Eye roll

The issue here is not whether the forum is biased or not (It’s not, as anyone can see by reviewing the list of panelists and the questioning format), or whether the NMC4S has endorsed a slate (it hasn’t).

There is something much more important at stake here – a major disconnect – hypocrisy – between the board’s words and its actions…

For as long as I can remember, the N-MUSD trustees have told us how much they want community input and how this communication is so valuable, yeah, yeah, yeah, whatever. To support this, they have held many fake community input meetings and many fake information sessions. I have been to countless such meetings and always come away with the same impression: These are just for show.

Marti O’Meara and many other members of the community take time out of their busy lives to speak at board meetings. But instead of recognizing them as guests and valuing the input they claim to want, some speakers are berated, badgered, and belittled, almost always without the chance to respond.

This attitude has never been as apparent as it has during Snell’s presidency.

Any attempt to inform the public of a position contrary to that of the board is met with vitriol, whether it is on Facebook, a newspaper, or at a school board club meeting. The pinnacle of proof is Erica Roberts’ exposure of the flaws in Swun Math. This was met with the usual resistance and it was only after the tide of public outrage was too much to stem that the math program was changed. For her efforts, Roberts got treated as a villain.

Problems vs. Symptoms

Snell is not the problem, she is merely a symptom. The problem is an adversarial culture that has a fundamental misunderstanding of their mission.

The board and the administration have weathered many past storms, single events that are ignored or resolved so that the status quo could resume. (Tennis, anyone?)

Today, things are different, but because the board has operated one way for so long, they are not prepared to handle this new activism, hence Snell’s repeated outbursts in multiple forums.

The school board balance of power is shifting and it will be complete either this year or in 2020. One would think by looking at the board’s reactions to this change that the activists want kids to learn by standing on their heads or by using an abacus instead of a calculator.

The truth is that all we want is what is expected of any enterprise, public or private. For me, it comes down to three basic principles:

Transparency – Everything that is not covered by legal restrictions, such as employee issues, should be made public in an easily identifiable and accessible manner. (See the website for the city of Costa Mesa as an example)

Accountability – Taking ownership of everything restores the faith and confidence of employees and the public.

Fiscal responsibility – Understanding that every desk, every stapler, every paperclip, has been paid for by the taxes of many thousands of hard-working people who deserve only the most judicious spending.

Is that too much to ask? I don’t think so, nor do my colleagues in the NMC4S.

Steve Smith